After six memorable years, Sandesh Jhingan and Kerala Blasters mutually part ways

Sandesh Jhingan and Kerala Blasters decided to part ways on Thursday after six seasons together in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL). A product of the St. Stephen’s Football Academy in Chandigarh, Jhingan rose to prominence in the yellow of Kerala Blasters after an outstanding debut campaign with the club that culminated in a runners-up finish and him being adjudged the Emerging Player of the League in Hero ISL 2014.

“It was great to be a part of Kerala Blasters right from day one. We’ve built some great memories together as we helped each other grow but have finally decided to part ways. I wish all the good luck to the club going forward,” the 26-year-old said on his departure from the Kochi-based outfit.

A towering defender with a physical presence, Jhingan became one of the household names in Indian football following his exploits in Hero ISL 2014. At just 21 years of age at the time, he demonstrated maturity beyond his years and was a calming influence on the backline. Jhingan made 14 appearances in Hero ISL’s inaugural season and showed his versatility with then player and head coach David James using him as a full-back.

A threat from attacking set-pieces and comfortable going forward, he showed his quality in the opposition’s final-third with two assists in Hero ISL 2014, but it was his defensive contribution that caught the eye. The Indian defender made nine blocks, 31 interceptions, 42 tackles and 85 clearances in Hero ISL’s inaugural season and had become one of the first names on the team sheet by the end of the campaign.

His performances with Kerala Blasters soon led to a call-up to the national side and before too long, Jhingan went on to establish himself as one of the mainstays in the heart of the Blue Tigers’ defence. A big reason behind India’s 13-match unbeaten run under former head coach Stephen Constantine, Jhingan’s leadership quality and penchant for goals in national colours came to the fore.

With Kerala, Jhingan’s influence grew with each passing year and after missing out on the playoffs in the league’s second season, the defender from Chandigarh helped guide the Blasters back to the Hero ISL final in 2016. Once again, though, it was heartbreak for Jhingan and Kerala as they suffered another defeat in the final – this time after extra time and a penalty shootout.

The two-time Hero ISL runner-up was then named as Kerala’s captain ahead of the 2017-18 season and was entrusted to marshal the defence. Although he led the backline well as Kerala conceded 22 times all season and lost just five matches, it wasn’t enough to qualify for the playoffs. In his 17 appearances during the campaign, he made 14 interceptions, 20 blocks, 50 tackles and 124 clearances besides also providing an assist.

He bagged another assist the following season as well and started all matches for the Blasters in Hero ISL 2018-19. However, Kerala’s inability to turn draws into wins in that campaign meant that the club and Jhingan missed out on qualifying for the playoffs for the second season in a row.

Hero ISL 2019-20 saw Jhingan miss the entire campaign after an ACL injury before the season ruled him out of action. His absence in Kerala’s backline was severely felt as they conceded 32 times en-route to finishing seventh in the standings. While Jhingan’s presence may not have solved all of Kerala’s problems, one can’t help but imagine their defence being more solid and secure with the 26-year-old in it.

Such has been his impact at the club that the Kerala Blasters have decided to permanently retire the jersey number worn by him.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank Sandesh for his commitment, loyalty, and passion for the club and its supporters. KBFC respects Sandesh's desire to pursue a new challenge and we wish him all the best for this new journey. We know that he will always remain a Blaster at heart. As a tribute to his contributions to the club, we will be permanently retiring his jersey number 21,” Nikhil Bhardwaj, Owner of Kerala Blasters FC said about the talismanic defender.

A favourite among Kerala’s passionate and vociferous Manjappada fan base, he will be dearly missed by all at the club and not just its spectators. His journey with Kerala over the years has encompassed the full range of emotions. From incredible highs and individual accolades to final heartbreaks and devastating lows, Jhingan’s seen and felt it all with the Kochi-based club.

During his 76 appearances for Kerala, he made 93 interceptions, 97 blocks, 194 tackles and 502 clearances. And even though Sandesh Jhingan is no longer synonymous with Kerala Blasters as it had always been, there’s a certain part of the club that will always remain close to his heart.

“A special mention to the people of Kerala who have always stood behind the club no matter what, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the love you have shown myself and KBFC. I am sure you will continue to support the club in the future as well. Both the club and the fans will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you,” Jhingan added.

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